msnbc.com news services
updated 12/17/2007 4:02:31 AM ET 2007-12-17T09:02:31

A suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of Pakistani soldiers returning from a soccer game in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing nine of them, the army said.

The attacker struck near an army communications center in Kohat, about 30 miles from the city of Peshawar. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said nine troops were killed and four were wounded.

Pakistan has suffered a string of suicide attacks in recent days, most of them targeting security forces.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but officials blame militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida who have expanded their influence in areas near the Afghan border.

The bombing, the first major attack since Pakistan's stateof emergency was lifted two days ago, was near an army-run school where Islamist militants have made repeated attacks on security forces in recent months.

"The bomber was on foot and blew himself up as he got close to the soldiers who were returning from a football ground," said military spokesman, Major General Arshad Waheed.

Four soldiers were wounded, he said.

Mountain strongholds
More than 400 people have been killed in suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan in recent months, most in the North West Frontier Province.

President Pervez Musharraf cited rising militant violence, as well as a meddling judiciary, when he imposed a state of emergency on Nov. 3.

Musharraf lifted emergency rule and restored the constitution on Saturday. Hours later, he said the government had "broken the back" of the militancy.

Many militants took refuge in remote northwestern area on the Afghan border after U.S.-backed troops ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. They have been conducting raids into Afghanistan and Pakistan from their mountain strongholds.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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